Infrared saunas are well known for their many health benefits in relation to detoxification and overall health, but did you know that saunas can also play a significant role in cardiovascular health? In fact, infrared saunas have quite a reputation among medical professionals and researchers.
Researchers have determined that sauna use will increase the cardiac workload in much the same way as a brisk walk. This can be particularly beneficial to individuals who have medical conditions that require a sedentary lifestyle.
In 1981, the American Medical Association reported that using an infrared sauna on a regular basis,
"may be as effective, as a means of cardiovascular conditioning and burning calories, as regular exercise."
Infrared Saunas and Cardiovascular Health
Saunas create thermal stress, which is simply, stress on our body because of the increased temperature. The infrared rays penetrate deeply into our bodies tissues. Our internal organs and muscular tissues become warm, and our bodies natural reaction is to increase our heart rate and cool itself back down to its normal temperature.
Our heart can increase as much as double the rate of our resting heart rate, thus increasing our cardiac output and metabolic rate. This increased heart rate creates what is called passive cardiovascular conditioning, in effect, exercising our heart.
NASA conducted extensive research in the early 1980's, and they determined that,
"Infrared stimulation of cardiovascular function would be the ideal way to maintain cardiovascular conditioning in American astronauts during long space flights."
Increased Blood Flow
When our muscles become warm and our heart rate increases, our body also begins to increase the amount of blood flowing thru our veins and arteries. Our capillaries dilate allowing an increased level of blood flow as well as improving the circulation of our blood. Our blood becomes oxygen rich, and the blood nourishes our tissues with healing nutrients. The improvement in our circulation also reduces inflammation, and our body repairs and heals itself more rapidly.
Because our heart is getting a gentle workout during a sauna, our circulatory system responds by providing less resistance for the blood to flow by dilating the capillaries. Our blood flow can increase up to 13 quarts per minute! This can be as much as double our normal rate of 5 to 7 quarts a minute.
There have been a number of studies that have shown that regular use of an infrared sauna could significantly lower blood pressure. There has also been evidence to suggest sauna use can help individuals whose blood pressure is too low. By using a sauna on a regular basis, you can help train and strengthen your heart muscles, and improve your cardiovascular output.
There is often little change in the systolic pressure, which is the first and largest number in a blood pressure reading. Systolic is the measurement of pressure within the arteries when the heart beats. However, the second and lower number, the diastolic pressure often decreases. The diastolic pressure measures the heart muscle between heart beats. When the heart is resting and refilling with blood.
Dr. Thomas H. Lee, the founding editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, wrote the "the cardiovascular effects of sauna have been well documented in the past. It lowers blood pressure, and there is every reason to believe that its effects are good for blood vessels."
Dr. Mark Hyman, founder and medical director of the Ultra Wellness Center, has written about how infrared saunas can improve HRV (heart rate variability). He states, "Normally, there is a subtle variability between heartbeats. When there is more variability in the beat-to-beat rhythm, your heart and nervous system are healthier. The least healthy heart rhythm has the least variability - a flat line. However, when the autonomic nervous system is in chronic stress mode, the heartbeat becomes less variable. Infrared saunas relax the body and mind, reduce autonomic nervous stimulation, and thus improve HRV."
Many studies have shown that infrared saunas can be an effective form of treatment for many types of heart disease, and help improve cardiovascular health. However, it is important to remember that a sauna works best when it is part of a healthy lifestyle. By eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep, you will put yourself in the position to get the most from your sauna.